Becoming a lawyer, 45 years ago

In June of 1973 Babbie and I flew to Ketchikan, Alaska, where I would be a legal intern to City Attorney Ed Stahla.  Part of my duties was to be the Prosecuting attorney for enforcement of the City of Ketchikans’ criminal laws, including its prohibition of driving while under the influence.  So when the City cops arrested someone for drunk driving, I was in charge of the case.  Stahla left it all up to me.

There are only about 25 miles of road in Ketchikan, which is located on island.  And it was a hard drinking town.  So standard practice was to reduce the DUI charge to reckless driving as part of a plea agreement.  There had been no trials of DUI cases in Ketchikan for as far back as anyone could remember.

This didn’t make much sense to me, and when a DUI occurred, I refused to plea bargain and we took the case to trial.

The defendant was the president of the Moose Club, and a popular man.  His attorney was State Senator Bob Ziegler, the dean of the Ketchikan bar.  Bob made no objections to my introduction of the breathalyzer results, and we argued the case to the jury of six.

I made the best argument I could, and Ziegler was very low key in his final argument.   They came back with a verdict of not guilty after deliberating for twenty minutes.  When the court adjourned one of the women on the panel came up to the defendant, gave him a hug, and said how glad she was that he was acquitted.

There were only about twenty lawyers In Ketchikan, and most of them would get together for coffee every day before going to their offices.  Stahla and I went every day.  These were the first actual lawyers I’d ever known, and it was clear to me that this was something I could do to support myself.  And I liked these guys, and they liked me.

I became a lawyer to make a good living and to lay the groundwork for a political career.   It looked promising.  After two more quarters at UCLA I flew up to Anchorage to stay with my Uncle Fritz and study for the bar exam.  Before the results came back the Executive Director of the Bar Association called me down to her office to ask about some trouble I’d gotten into after graduating from Cal.  Some members of the Board of Governors of the Bar Association wanted to prevent my admission because of it, which would mean my law degree would be worthless.

I don’t know for certain, but I think Bob Ziegler told them this was all bullshit.  He was an influential man, and I did get admitted.

Nine years later, when I was a freshman State Senator, Bob Ziegler asked for my vote for his Resolution calling for a balanced budget amendment.  It passed 11-9, and Alaska was the 32nd state to pass this Article V Resolution.

And so began my 35 years, off and on, of promoting Article V.  The BBA Task Force currently has 28 states, but will be hard pressed to get any more.  The BBA has become a partisan issue, and there just aren’t enough Republicans.

So, after over 40 years of trying, the drive for a Balanced Budget Amendment Convention has come up short.  It’s been 229 years now, and the states have never been able to reach the 2/3 supermajority needed to call an amendment convention.

This is not what the Framers had in mind when they adopted Article V.  The state legislators can unilaterally (with voter approval) reduce the 2/3 requirement using Article V, but it will take 34 states to agree to do this.  Democrats have to be on board with this in order for it to work.

Do Democratic state legislators want to empower themselves, putting them on an equal footing with Congress?  Or are they so in awe of Washington D. C., and afraid of what their Republican colleagues in state legislatures might do, that they’ll prevent Article V from being fixed?

I’m betting on the former, and we’ll all find out soon enough.  I served with patriotic Democrats like Bob Ziegler.  If there are enough like that still around, we can do this.

If we could make the public aware of all this, I think it would happen quickly.  Some how, some way, will be found to get the message out.  And then we can save our country.


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